December 28, 2016

Dear friends,

Like many of you, I cooked for a crowd at Christmas. Probably unlike many of you, I planned on a crowd of just two. My family met after Christmas this year at my niece’s in Columbus, so Tony and I spent the actual holiday with a ham, a full fridge and a crackling Yule log on Netflix.

I was delighted. “We won’t have to cook for a week,” I told Tony on Christmas Eve as I wedged a pumpkin pie into the refrigerator between a platter of antipasto and bowl of potato salad. There’s Champagne! Green bean salad! Blue cheese-stuffed olives! Cool Whip!

We are still wallowing in the bounty. For breakfast this morning (Tuesday) I had a slice of pie, two pieces of green-onion tamago (Japanese cold omelet) and a couple of bites of shaved ham. I won’t quit until we’re gnawing on the bone.

One item that is disappearing rapidly is the green bean salad. I’m alarmed. It is everything a green bean salad should be: A symphony of textures and flavors, mostly savory with a touch of acid and a hint of sweet.

The recipe is new to me, although I found it on Bon Appetit’s web site so some of you may be familiar with it. Of course, I tinkered a bit. Basically, fresh, al dente green beans are tossed with fried garlic chips and onions, toasted slivered almonds, and dried cranberries in a slightly sweet apple cider vinaigrette.

The original recipe calls for cooking the green beans in boiling water for just one to two minutes, until “bright green but still very firm.” Oh, no you don’t. Green beans should be cooked until the starches at least begin to turn to sugar, and chewing them is not a major investment of time. Back in the early 1980s the new al dente-vegetables trend was a backlash against the mushy, overcooked veggies that until then had dominated restaurant (and home) cooking. “Al dente” was never intended to mean “almost raw.”

Take your time when you fry the onion and thin garlic chips. The garlic must turn golden brown and become crisp, which requires pllenty of oil and fairly low heat.

If you’re stocking your fridge for New Year’s, you might want to make a double batch of this salad.

CRANBERRY-TOASTED ALMOND GREEN BEAN SALAD

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1 1/4 lbs. green beans
1/4 cup olive oil
2 fat garlic cloves
1/3 cup thinly slioed onion
1/2 cup (about 2 oz.) slivered blanched almonds (matchstick shape)
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup cider vinegar
2 tsps. honey
Sea salt

Trim beans and cook in plenty of boiling water until tender but not mushy, about 5 minutes. Drain and refresh under very cold water to set the color and stop the cooking. Drain well.

Heat olive oil over medium-low heat in a medium skillet. Peel and thinly slice garlic cloves vertically. Slowly brown garlic, onion and almonds in the oil. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Add cranberries, vinegar and honey to oil in skillet and simmer 2 to 3 minutes, until cranberries are juicy. Toss with green beans and the garlic mixture in a bowl. Season with salt, toss again and taste. Serve chilled or at room temperature. Makes 6 servings.

TIDBITS

Okay, I’m humiliated. My Christmas shout-out last week was not written as a plea for attention. I was not trying to guilt-trip you into praise. At 67, I have honestly wondered lately whether I’m too old to be relevant and I certainly have no desire to mellow into a nice, sweet old food blogger.

Please. I’m anything but nice.

Still, I must have sounded needy because I got a lot of emails along the lines of “Don’t worry, we love you and sleep with your cookbook under our pillows,” so OK. I’ll keep writing if you keep messaging me occasionally with questions, restaurant recommendations, recipes to try and snarky comments. Agreed?

And happy New Year, you bums.

THE MAILBAG

From Judy S., Scottsdale, Ariz.:
Merry Christmas! My gift to you is this recipe that is guaranteed to warm you up during any winter cold spell. The recipe comes from Jan D. Atri at http://www.jandatri.com, who has articles in the Arizona Republic and has had several restaurants over the years.

I hope you enjoy the soup as much as we do. Depending on my mood, I sometimes add smoked paprika after tasting.

CHARRED RED PEPPER SOUP

6 red bell peppers
2 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 large leek, cleaned well and chopped
2 medium red or white potatoes, diced
1 medium carrot, diced
1 large onion, chopped
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups heavy cream
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. white pepper

Wash and pat dry peppers Place on a baking sheet and broil at 400 degrees until charred and blistered, turning every few minutes. Remove from oven, place peppers in a paper or plastic bag and close tightly.

Let stand for 20 minutes. Remove from bag and discard skin and seeds.

Melt butter and olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat Add leek, potatoes, carrot, onion and peppers. Saute until tender, about 10 minutes. Add chicken broth and cream. Simmer for 25 minutes.

Place mixture in a blender, in batches if necessary, and puree. Caution: Start blender on low and place a towel over lid to avoid hot liquid from spilling out. Strain through a sieve and return to saucepan.

Simmer for 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and serve. Makes about 8 servings.

Dear Judy: The soup sounds wonderful and I’ll definitely try it. Thank you so much.

December 21, 2016

Dear friends,

My Christmas breakfast sandwich is as far from an Egg McMuffin as you can get — not that I don’t crave an Egg McMuffin on occasion, but that occassion is not Christmas. Christmas is for fancier fare.

I found a breakfast sandwich that is both fancy and fast. Store-bought raisin bread is spread with a creamy mixture of goat cheese, honey and grated lemon rind. The filling is slathered with orange marmalade before topping with a second slice of buttered raisin bread. The sandwich is griddled in a skillet until warm and melty.

You can make a bunch of these a couple at a time in a big skillet or more on a griddle, and keep them warm in the oven while finishing enough for your tribe. If you make the goat cheese filling on Christmas Eve, you can turn these out faster than flapjacks.

The original recipe is from “Cooking Light The Complete Quick Cook” by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough. I swapped orange marmalade for their fig jam and omitted their addition of basil leaves. Either version would be delicious. And quick.
GRILLED GOAT CHEESE SANDWICHES WITH MARMALADE AND HONEY
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2 tsp. honey
1/4 tsp. grated lemon rind
4 oz. goat cheese (chevre)
8 slices cinnamon-raisin bread
2 tbsp. orange marmalade
Softened butter
Powdered sugar

Blend together honey, lemon rind and goat cheese. Spread the mixture evenly on four slices of the bread. Top with the marmalade. Top with remaining bread slices. Spread a scant amount of butter on the outside of the bread. Grill in a hot, dry skillet or griddle until lightly toasted on both sides. Cut each sandwich in half diagonally and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Makes 4 servings.

TIDBIT

Just when I start wondering whether I’m losing my relevance and if anyone is reading this newsletter anymore, I get a cllutch of lovely thank-you emails totally out of the blue.

Can you folks read my mind??

If you can, you know how much I treasure your loyalty, your friendship (and you do feel like friends) and your feedback. I still enjoy writing this newsletter, which I’ve been doing for almost 10 years for See Jane Cook and another 10 or so for its precurser, Second Helpings.

Our interaction is what keeps me writing, so drop me a line now and then. And from Tony and me to you and yours, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Jolly Festivus.

THE MAILBAG

From Jonathan:
Could you help me with a menu and recipe for a dinner featuring beef tenderloin?

Dear Jonathan: Tenderloin is an easy but elegant entree. I like the flavor a grill imparts but I don’t like standing outside over a grill while the party swirls inside without me. So I developed this two-step cooking method: Smoke the whole tenderloin briefly on the grill and refrigerate. A half hour before serving, finish cooking it in the oven.

Sliced tenderloin with horseradish sauce deserves a festive, totally yummy side dish. I suggest serving it over my winter vegetable hash, which is a bit of work but worth it.

SMOKED BEEF TENDERLOIN WITH HORSERADISH CREAM SAUCE

1 whole beef tenderloin, about 1 1/2 lbs.
Vegetable oil
Salt, pepper
3/4 cup sour cream or creme fraiche
1 1/2 tbsp. (or to taste) prepared horseradish
Milk

Up to a day in advance: Trim and discard most of the visible fat from the meat, and remove any silverskin (the thin, filmy layer of connective tissue). Rub meat all over with oil. Season liberally with salt and pepper.

Scatter a handful of wood chips over a hot charcoal fire. Place meat on grill positioned directly over the coals. Close lid and cook for 5 minutes, turning after 2 1/2 minutes. Remove from grill and, if prepping in advance, cool, wrap and refrigerate.

To make the sauce, beat together the sour cream or creme fraiche with the horseradish and salt and pepper to taste. Stir in enough milk to thin sauce to a thick pouring consistency. Cover and refrigerate.

About 45 minutes before serving, heat oven to 400 degrees. Remove meat from refrigerator and place in an oiled cast-iron skillet or shallow baking pan. Rub with more oil. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes for medium-rare meat, 150 degrees on a meat thermometer. Let stand for 10 minutes, then slice into 1/4-inch-thick rounds.

Mound winter vegetable hash (recipe follows) in the center of 4 to 6 dinner plates. Fan tenderloin slices over the hash and drizzle with horseradish sauce. Serves 4 to 6.

WINTER VEGETABLE HASH

1 small celery root, 3/4 lbs. (2 3/4 cups diced)
1 large turnip, 1/2 lb. (1 3/4 cups diced
1 lb. parsnips (3 1/2 cups diced)
2 medium carrots (1 1/4 cups diced)
1 medium potato (1 cup diced)
2 cloves minced garlic
1/2 cup chopped onion
3 tbsp. olive oil
Sea salt
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary
1/4 cup white wine vinegar

With a good-quality vegetable peeler, peel vegetables. Cut into 1/4- to 1/2-inch cubes. Combine in a large bowl with garlic and onion and mix well.

Heat olive oil in a large, deep frying pan over medium-high heat. Add diced vegetables and saute for 15 minutes, turning occasionally with a spatula.

Stir in salt, thyme and rosemary. Add vinegar and toss with the vegetables, turning rapidly with a spatula until vinegar has evaporated.

Place pan of vegetables into an oven preheated to 350 degrees. Roast for 45 minutes, or until vegetables are soft and top begins to brown. Serves 6 to 8.

Dear friends,

I just finished lunch of canned tomato soup poured steaming over little chunks of cheese that I dredged up, all melty, with a spoon. Mmmm. It’s the meal my mother made for me when I had a cold, as I do now. Even in my adulthood, if the cold was bad, Mom would drive up from East Liverpool to heat up a can of soup with a side of TLC.

Almost everyone has a get-better food of questionable pedigree that goes down like a hug. I also have a Christmas cookie along those lines. It’s so humble it barely earns its place on the cookie plate. I’m almost embarrassed to share the recipe with you, but this cold has gotten me down and I’m not up to much more work this week.

I made a batch of Mom’s Cookie Candy because I ate too many of those fancy lemon knot cookies I wrote about two weeks ago, and didn’t have enough for my doctor AND my mail carrier AND the neighbor who did me a favor last summer.

My emergency gift cookie goes by many different names. My family calls it Cookie Candy because it’s basically fudge with oats stirred in. I clearly recall my first taste of this chocolatle-peanut butter wonder. I was in the fifth grade, and for weeks after, my friends and I were obsessed with getting our hands on more of them.

The cookies remain one of my favorites, edged out only by nut-filled kifli. Making them takes me back to Mom’s kitchen and her big plastic Tupperware drum of Christmas cookies that was refilled as needed with reinforcements from the basement freezer.

I don’t care if they are stupid-easy to make and look like — well, never mind; I still love these cookies.

COOKIE CANDY

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2 cups sugar
3 tbsp. cocoa
1/2 cup milk
1/4 lb. butter or margarine
1/2 cup peanut butter
3 cups uncooked oats

In a saucepan combine sugar, cocoa and milk. Add butter and chunk it up with a spoon. Stir over medium heat until mixture comes to a steady boil. Boil steadily but gently for 2 to 2 1/2 minutes, until a small amount dropped in cold water can be formed into a soft ball.

Remove from heat and quickly stir in peanut butter until smooth, then stir in oats. Immediately drop by tablespoons onto foil. Cool complettely before storing in a lidded container. Makes about 2 1/2 dozen.
THE MAILBAG

From Pennie:
I’d like to buy nice imported cold cuts and cheeses for the holidays — the sort of things I used to get at West Point Market. Where is a good place to find them now that West Point no longer has refrigerated items? I’m a huge fan of the sort of cold cuts served for breakfast in Belgium on hard rectangular rolls.

Dear Pennie: I have been wondering the same thing about a lot of items I used to buy at West Point. I know you can get European cheeses at Earth Fare and Mustard Seed Market. Some luxury cold cuts are available at Leach’s Meats and Sweets in Barberton, DeVitis in Akron and Kirbie Meats in Stow, but I haven’t seen a selection that rivals West Point’s. Anyone want to jump in here?

From L.W.:
Congratulations on your recent conversion to fruitcake tolerance from aversion. If I had a circle of nearby friends and family who would share it, I might have given your recipe a go. But you had a tease about a single-serve microwave version, then left us hanging — no recipe, no link, just that Jane Snow endorsement to start us drooling. Please share with us…my bottle of Bourbon is at the ready.

Dear L.W.: Sorry for the tease. I ran that recipe last year, but should have realized not everyone saw it.

PERSONAL FRUIT CAKE
1/2 tbsp. butter
8 pecan halves, cut crosswise in halves
2 tbsp. mixed candied fruit
1 tbsp. dried apricots in 1/4-inch dice
1 tbsp. raisins
1 tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. sugar
1/8 tsp. powdered ginger
Pinch of ground cloves
Pinch of ground cinnamon
1 egg yolk
1 tsp. Bourbon or water
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

Melt butter in a 12-ounce microwave-safe mug. Stir in nuts and fruit. Sprinkle in flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and spices and mix well with a fork, turning over fruit and nuts several times. Add egg yolk, Bourbon or water and vanilla and stir until thoroughly mixed. Microwave at 50 percent power for:

1 minute 45 seconds for 1000-watt microwave ovens or 1 minute 15 seconds for 1100- and 1200-watt ovens, adjusting the time up or down for lower or higher wattage ovens.

The cake is done when the top is dry and the cake begins to pull away from the sides of the mug. Let rest one minute, then run a knife around edge of cake and invert onto a plate. Eat warm or at room temperature.

December 7, 2016

Dear friends,

Last week I ate an entire fruitcake and disposed of the evidence before Tony returned from a hunting trip. It was just a mini 5-inch loaf, but it will come as a surprise to many people that I ate any fruitcake at all.

I am a known fruitcake hater. My sister once gave me a red holiday t-shirt with “I Hate Fruitcake” on it. I have a box of Christmas cards, also a gift, that pictures people in Victorian garb tossing fruitcakes down a manhole. I joked annually about fruitcake in print and once challenged newspaper readers to bake and bring me fruitcakes if they thought they could change my mind about the holiday sweet. I was flooded with 158 fruitcakes that I then had to taste in an awful day-long session.

OK, I still don’t like those little green bits that taste like kitchen cleaner and have the half-life of nuclear waste. But I kind of like fruitcake now. I like them with dried apricots, raisins, candied cherries and pecans. I like the little personal fruitcakes I make in a mug in the microwave. I especially liked the little loaf I bought last week at Pallotta’s Pastries in Cuyahoga Falls when I was there looking for the lemon cookies I wrote about last week.

Pallotta’s homemade version is crammed with just two things: Juicy candied maraschino cherries and pecans. Absolutely crammed. The cherries are gently candied, not turned to solid sugar as most are. When I got my little fruitcake home, I sprinkled it with bourbon and let the booze soak in before I cut a slice. No wonder I ate the whole thing in a week.

I’m ready now to branch out to fruitcakes studded with candied orange peel and maybe even citron. I regret all the fruitcakes I have spurned in my life, from the cellophane-wrapped slices that fruitcake companies used to send me to the rum-soaked gift fruitcake I pawned off on a homeless shelter that caters to alcoholics. Oops.

Real fruitcake lovers, I hear, bake their cakes in October and wrap them in booze-soaked cheesecloth to age for a few weeks before the holiday. Maybe I’ll do that next year. This year I will make a simple fruitcake sprinkled with just enough Bourbon to get me through the holiday. Aw, who am I kidding? The cake won’t last that long.

Here’s the winning recipe fromthat long-ago fruitcake contest. I plan to make it and soak it with Bourbon.

APPLESAUCE FRUITCAKE
1/2 lb. candied red cherries
1/2 lb. candied green cherries (I use all red)
1/2 lb. candied pineapple
1/2 lb. dates (optional)
2 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup shortening
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tbsp. vanilla
1 cup applesauce
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 lb. flaked coconut
1/2 lb. pecans
1/2 lb. walnuts

Chop fruits into half-inch pieces. With hands, toss fruit with one-half cup flour, coating each piece well.

Cream together shortening and sugar. Beat in eggs one at a time. Stir in salt, vanilla, applesauce and soda. Gradually add remaining flour. Stir in chopped fruits, coconut, pecans and walnuts.

Line bottoms and sides of two loaf pans with two layers of waxed paper. Fill pans three-fourths full and bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. Reduce heat to 275 degrees and bake 1 1/2 to two hours longer. Let cakes stand in pans for five minutes at room temperature.

Remove from pans and peel off waxed paper. When cakes are cool, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate.

TIDBIT

“Where is the picture of the finished cookies?” a reader asked after I ran a still life of lemons with my Italian lemon anginetti recipe last week. Yes, a photo might help you make sense of my directions to shape the cookies. Think of the raw cookie as a pretzel, but with one end left pointing up. To help you visualize, here’s a photo of some of the finished cookies:

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THE MAILBAG

From Carla N.:
Can I substitute baking soda for baking powder in a recipe? Is it a straight swap? What’s the difference, anyway?

Dear Carla: This is the kind of info I vaguely recall reading once or twice but I can’t remember the exact answer. So I looked it up. Baking soda is a substance (sodium bicarbonate) found in nature. Adding an acid to it (citrus juice, vinegar, buttermilk, etc.) causes it to release carbon dioxide bubbles, which cause dough to rise.

Baking powder is baking soda with its own acid added – usually cream of tartar.

Recipes leavened with baking powder do not need an external acid (lemon juice, etc.) to produce a rise. A liquid is all that’s needed. Baking powder usually has a second acid added that reacts when the dough is both wet and hot. That’s why it’s called “double acting.”

Baking soda is about three times as powerful as baking powder. To substitute baking soda for baking powder, cut the amount at least in half and add 1 teaspoon vinegar or lemon juice for each one-half teaspoon baking powder.

To substitute baking powder for baking soda, use at least twice as much. Most of this information is from http://www.phys.org.

December 1, 2016

Dear friends,

I have never wanted a cookie as badly as I wanted the Italian lemon knots (anginetti) I baked earlier this week. For starters, I spent a year thinking about them after my friend Kathy gave me a few to take home last December. Wow. Then I spent a day last week driving from bakery to bakery to try to buy some. I finally tracked them down at Pallotta’s Pastries in Cuyahoga Falls, arriving just after another customer had wiped them out.

“He bought every last one we had,” the clerk said.

On the way home I stopped at Acme for butter, lemons and white sprinkles. I would make the damn things myself. By the time the first batch came from the oven I wanted one so badly I couldn’t wait to add the icing and sprinkles. Truth: I wanted (and ate) two or three before I iced them.

The cookies are not difficult to make but they do require several steps including zesting and juicing a couple of lemons, making the icing, and rolling the dough for each cookie into a pencil shape and coiling it on the baking sheet. You could just pinch off pieces of dough, roll them between your palms and curve into “S” shapes, as some bakeries do. Or I suppose you could drop blobs of the dough from a spoon if you’re reaaal lazy. At that point you probably should just buy a few dozen from Pallotta’s. They are $13.99 a pound (a couple dozen or so cookies).

Pallotta’s is worth a visit anyway. It is one of the few Akron-area bakeries where everything is still made from scratch rather than from purchased frozen dough. Owner Mike Pallotta’s great-grandfather was the founder of Crest Bakery. Mike is a culinary school graduate, so it figures he would eventually expand beyond baked goods. The shop now has a lovely little dining room where retired Italian guys sip coffee and business people lunch on homemade soups, sandwiches and daily specials such as lasagna. Pallotta and his crew also make homemade raw pasta and pizza dough that is sold by the pound. The website is http://www.pallottaspastries.net.

I regret not loading up on that stuff, but when I visited I was on a single-minded search for the soft, moist, sweet-yet-tart anginetti. I found a bunch of recipes and settled on one from http://www.prouditaliancook.com, adding more real lemon juice and zest and eliminating the lemon flavoring and lemon liqueur in the original. These cookies are the bomb.

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ANGINETTI
(Italian lemon knot cookies)

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter, softened
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
Grated zest of 2 lemons
1/4 cup lemon juice
5 cups flour
Pinch of salt
5 tsp. baking powder
3/4 cup milk
Lemon icing (recipe follows)
White candy sprinkles

With a mixer or by hand, cream butter and sugar in a large bowl until fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time, then beat in the lemon zest and juice.

In a smaller bowl whisk the flour, salt and baking powder. Slowly add to the creamed mixture alternately with the milk, adding just enough milk to produce a soft dough (you may not need all of the milk). Scrape dough onto a large piece of plastic wrap, wrap well and chill until firm, at least 1 hour or overnight.

Pinch off about a cup of dough, refrigerating the rest between batches. Pinch off a walnut-size piece of dough and roll it between your palms into a 4- to 5-inch rope. On a parchment-lined baking sheet, form the rope into a small circle. Loop one end of the rope under the other end and tuck it into the center of the circle (basically making a knot). Repeat, spacing cookies about 1 1/2 inches apart.

Bake at 350 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes. The top of the cookie will not change color, but the underside will be light brown when the cookie is done. Cool on racks before icing and decorating with sprinkles. Store in tightly covered plastic containers with waxed paper between the layers. The cookies freeze well. Makes 5 to 6 dozen.

LEMON ICING
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1/3 cup lemon juice
Water if needed

Combine powdered sugar and lemon zest in a small bowl. Stir in enough lemon juice to achieve a thin consistency.

Either brush a thin layer of icing on each cookie, or dip the tops of the cookies in the icing. Immediately sprinkle with white candy sprinkles, if desired. Let stand until icing firms up completely before storing.

TIDBITS

If you’ve been longing for a smoker and can get your hands on a 4-drawer file cabinet, you’re in luck. While searching the Internet for lord knows what, Tony found a YouTube video of an ingenious homemade smoker made from an old-school metal file cabinet.

The bottom drawer holds a hotplate and a pan of wood chips for cold smoking, or a charcoal fire for hot smoking. Holes are made in the bottoms of the other drawers for the circulation of smoke and heat. The guy who made the contraption can smoke a couple of racks of ribs, a bunch of chicken and a side of salmon at one time.

And boy, won’t it look spiffy on your patio? To view the how-to, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6bPF1hAE1zI.

THE MAILBAG

From Tammy Jo:

In regard to your last blog, Krieger’s Market on Graham Road in Cuyahoga Falls carries onion juice and garlic juice (and sauerkraut juice, if the mood hits you).

I have the following question (as one hunting widow to another): Although I can’t discern “violets” in a glass of Cabernet Franc, I can identify microwaved meat regardless of the covert attempts restaurants make to disguise it (sauces, etc.).

My husband insists I am crazy (as he happily consumes piping hot chicken breast left-overs served fresh from our microwave). I have tried all manner of microwave cooking methods – plastic-wrap vaporization, whereby water or broth is infused into said meat using an airtight drum over a glass bowl; the microwave-safe dome (that appears to do nothing more than minimize splatter and aid in clean-up). I STILL taste the mustiness of the microwave.  Any suggestions? The future of our left-overs depends on it!

Dear Tammy Jo: Thanks for coming through with a source for onion and garlic juices. Maybe David can try his turkey recipe for Christmas.

As for your leftovers question, I have never tasted mustiness in meat reheated in the microwave. Could the plastic oven walls have picked up the off flavor from other foods? I have to remove funky baked-in odors from my microwave periodically; maybe that would help.

The method I use is to combine 2 tablespoons vinegar with 1 cup of water and bring to a boil in the microwave. Let stand without opening the door for about 30 minutes. Then wipe down the inside of the microwave with soap and water. If that doesn’t do it, I put some baking soda in a small bowl and leave it in the microwave for a few days, removing it temporarily when I need to nuke something.

If off-odors aren’t the problem, maybe you just have an ultra-sensitive palate. You may have to reheat the meat in a regular oven or on the stove. Keep me posted.

From Dorothy G.:
I unknowingly bought dextrose sugar and made an apple cake (which recipe I have been using for over 50 years).  It did not come out right, so I made another and that too was a failure. Someone then told me about dextrose. Never again.  As you suggest, only buy real sugar. Also, do not buy cheap butter or margarine – like you say, they have too much water in them.

Dear Dorothy: I’m sorry you had to find out the hard way, but at least you now know what you did wrong. Many people have never heard of dextrose-blend sugar, and keep repeating their failures on the assumption a technique is to blame. I’m printing your letter as a cautionary tale to others. When you buy sugar, read the fine print on the package.

November 23, 2016

Dear friends,

I finally wised up that Tony takes a hunting trip immediately after Thanksgiving each year. Last November I ate almost an entire turkey myself because he left town on Black Friday, just after my backup turkey came from the oven.

Although I didn’t mind eating a whole turkey, I felt kind of selfish. So this year I grill-smoked my backup turkey Tuesday so Tony can have a couple of sandwiches before he heads to the woods on Saturday with his buddies.

(A backup turkey is the one you make at home for yourself when you dine out on the holiday. But you probably already know that.)

My favorite way to eat leftover turkey is, of course, snuggled between two slices of bread with cranberry sauce and a sheen of mayo. I will eat several of these sandwiches before I even think of branching out. There’s no greater November meal. In my opinion, not even the big feast itself can compare.

Maybe by Saturday I will be ready for something different – not an alternative to turkey, but an alternate way to eat it. I have a box of phyllo dough in the freezer for the occasion. I will thaw it and layer it in a pie pan with a hot filling of sautéed onions, shredded turkey, cinnamon and other spices moistened with chicken broth. I will sprinkle the filling with almonds and gather the buttered, papery dough around the mixture before baking.

This is my version of bisteeya, the iconic dish of Morocco that usually takes hours to make. I will make my quick version for a splendid solitary meal while Tony shivers in a tree all day and later dines with the guys on pork and sauerkraut. When he calls, I’ll tell him that the turkey and I miss him.

SHORT-CUT BISTEEYA
2 tbsp. margarine
1 cup chopped onions
Salt, pepper
1/8 to 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 tbsp. flour
1/3 cup lemon juice
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
2 cups shredded cooked turkey or chicken
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
6 sheets phyllo dough
Butter-flavored non-stick spray
1/4 cup sliced almonds

Melt margarine in a heavy, 10-inch skillet and sauté onions until limp. Season with salt, pepper and cayenne pepper. Sprinkle flour over onions and cook and stir over medium-high heat for about 2 minutes, until flour begins to change color. Whisk in lemon juice and chicken broth until smooth. Whisk and simmer until mixture thickens. Stir in turkey and cinnamon. Simmer until very thick.

Peel off two sheets of phyllo, spray the top sheet lightly with butter-flavored spray, and fold in half, butter-side in. Spray the top of the folded sheets and place in a 9-inch pie pan. Repeat with two more sheets of dough, arranging phyllo squares so excess extends beyond the rim of the pie plate, all the way around.

Pour hot filling over dough in pan. Sprinkle with almonds. Spray and fold two more sheets, tucking the square in the pan on top of the filling. Fold the overhanging dough up and over the top pastry.

Spray top of pie. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, until pastry is golden and filling is hot. Let rest 15 minutes before cutting’ into wedges. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

HELP U COOK

Baking season begins in earnest this weekend, and to put you on the right track, here are some tips on why your cookies may spread during baking:

• Make sure your sugar is pure granulated sugar, not a dextrose blend. Read the ingredients list, which should say merely “sugar.” Dextrose blends react like corn syrup, making cookies spread and prevent candies from setting up.

• Many margarine’s contain water, which will affect the texture of your cookies.

• Unbleached flour has a slightly higher protein content than bleached flour. The higher protein can cause cookies to spread and flatten.

• Letting cookie dough stand too long at room temperature also can cause cookies to spread and flatten, so refrigerate the dough between batches.

THE MAILBAG

From David G.:
I’m trying to find onion juice and garlic juice for a turkey injection recipe. I’ve struck out at Market District, Earth Fare and Mustard Seed.

Any suggestion on where else I might try locally?

Dear David: I tried Penzey’s, Trader Joe’s and Heather’s Heat and Flavor (the latter in Hudson) with no luck. Walmart online carries both, but not your closest Walmart megastore in Wadsworth. I think
you’ll have to make your own.

Caveat: bottled onion juice, at least, according to food writer John Thorne, is pretty mild. He says it tastes like juice from boiled onions. So I would use way less homemade juice in your recipe. Old, old Fanny Farmer cookbooks have you add mere drops to recipes.

To make onion juice: Peel and grate an onion on the smallest holes of a box grater set in a fine mesh strainer over a small, deep bowl. Press the pulp with the back of a spoon to extract as much juice as possible. Wear goggles! Wash your hands afterward with salt.

To make garlic juice: Separate a whole head of garlic into cloves. Place in a lidded jar and shake to remove skins. Press the cloves in a garlic press over a fine mesh strainer set over a small bowl. Scrape pulp in press into the strainer and press with the back of a spoon to extract juice. Again, clean hands with salt to eliminate odor.

It might be easier to just use another recipe. But you probably want to do Thanksgiving the hard way….

From Sandy T.:
You mentioned that your favorite way to cook a turkey is on the grill. Could you give us the directions?

Dear Sandy: Sure. The down side is you cannot stuff the turkey when you roast it this way. The upsides are many, though. The turkey will taste better than any you’ve ever roasted in the oven. It will cook in just two to three hours (for up to an 18-pounder).

Did I mention it will taste incredible?

Here are directions:

GRILL-SMOKED TURKEY

Build a large charcoal fire (about 30 briquettes) in the bottom of one side a lidded grill, and place a 9-by-12-inch foil pan in the bottom of the other half.

Rub or spray an unstuffed turkey (preferably brined) all over with oil or butter. When the coals ash over, place the turkey on the grill over the pan. Scatter wood chips over the coals. Close lid, leaving vents wide open. Grill for 2 to 3 hours for a 10 to 18-pound turkey. Note that the air temperature and wind can lengthen cooking time.

While roasting, add 6 to 8 charcoal briquettes every 45 minutes, and turn turkey quickly at the same time to rotate the side closest to the coals. Otherwise, do not open lid or heat will escape and lengthen the cooking time. Cook turkey until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh registers 175 degrees.

Transfer to a platter, wrap tightly with foil and let rest for about 30 minutes before carving.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

November 16, 2016

Dear friends,

The late-September afternoon was abuzz with bees, and the scent of ripening hung heavy in the air. I groaned when Tony boosted me onto the four-wheeler for a ride around our two acres. My new knee was still too tender for the trip, but I was mad with cabin fever and anxious to see how my precious plants had fared in my absence.

The vegetable garden was almost a total loss, and waist-high Canadian thistle had overrun the asparagus bed and young blueberry bushes. But despite my neglect a few clusters of fat red and white grapes dangled from ropy vines and – the surprise of the season – our solitary dwarf pear tree was absolutely loaded.

Suddenly I was pear-rich. I could indulge in fantasies of pear-intensive desserts with plenty left over for snacking. I was in no condition to bake yet, but luckily that was six weeks away. Last year I finally learned that pears fresh from the tree must be kept in cold storage for several weeks before ripening at room temperature. Otherwise they remain rock-hard.

Pear time is now at my house. I pulled several from the fridge last week and dreamed up desserts in my head while they ripened on the counter. On Sunday I began with an idea – pears, walnuts and blue cheese – and ended up with a gorgeous tart that straddles the line between cheese course and dessert.

The tart shell is made with frozen puff pastry. It is filled with a beaten mixture of ground walnuts, butter, eggs and sugar that puffs up slightly in the oven. Before baking, a handful of crumbled blue cheese is scattered over the tart and cored pear halves are nestled in the walnut mixture. The blue cheese lets you know it’s there without overwhelming the pears and walnuts. When the tart comes from the oven, toasted walnut pieces are tumbled in a thick sugar syrup and arranged on top. The syrup assures they both stay in place and glisten.

This tart would taste smashing with a port or a chewy red wine such as Syrah.

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PEAR, WALNUT AND BLUE CHEESE TART
1 sheet (half of a 17.3-oz. box) frozen puff pastry
1 stick (8 tbsp.) butter
1/2 cup walnut pieces
2/3 cup sugar, divided
2 eggs
1/2 cup ground walnuts
1/2 tsp. vanilla
5 or 6 ripe but slightly firm pears
1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese
1/3 cup water

Thaw puff pastry sheet according to package directions and remove butter from refrigerator to soften at room temperature.

Spread walnut pieces in a baking pan and bake at 375 degrees until toasted but not burnt, about 5 minutes. Remove from oven when edges begin to darken. Immediately transfer to a clean dish towel, gather towel around the nuts and rub pieces together to remove most of the skins, which can be bitter.
Discard skins and set nut pieces aside.

Roll puff pastry on a floured work surface until large enough to fit in bottom and up sides of a 10- or 11-inch tart pan with removable sides. Fit pastry into pan, floured side down. Trim edges with a knife, allowing one-half inch to extend above tart rim. Use trimmed pieces to patch areas that are too short.
Fold the excess pastry even with the rim, tucking between the dough and the side of the pan to make a crust of double thickness. Prick all over with a fork. Refrigerate.

Beat softened butter and one-third cup sugar with a mixer until fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time. Beat in ground walnuts and vanilla, scraping bowl once or twice.

Peel pears with a vegetable peeler. Cut vertically in halves. Remove stems and carefully remove seeds and core with a melon baller or the tip of a paring knife. Place pear halves cut sides down on a cutting board and cut across the pears at quarter-inch intervals, almost but not quite all the way through.

Spread ground walnut mixture in the chilled tart shell. Sprinkle blue cheese evenly over the mixture. Nestle pear halves in the tart shell in a decorative pattern. Combine water and remaining one-third cup sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Boil one minute, until syrup slightly thickens. Remove from heat and brush some of the syrup over the pears.

Bake at 375 degrees for about 40 minutes, until walnut mixture is puffed and set. Remove from oven. Return remaining syrup to a boil and toss toasted walnut pieces in the syrup. Transfer with a fork from the syrup to the warm tart, scattering randomly over the top. Cool to room temperature before removing the sides of the tart pan and cutting tart into 8 wedges. Serves 8.

TIDBIT I

I have become a tea fiend, and not because I have a Japanese husband. In fact, I don’t like matcha (Japanese powdered green tea) and I loathe the barley tea Tony craves. My tea of choice was Ceylon until a few years ago, when I switched to Assam after asking the proprietor of a Lebanese grocery store if it was any good.

“It’s the best tea in the world,” he said slowly, as if instructing an idiot. Many pots later, I’ve decided he was right.

Assam is a black tea named for the region of India where it grows. The native tea plants are a different variety than those that grow naturally in China (the only two regions to which tea is native). The deep-amber tea has a bright, frisky flavor. The best place to buy it is in a Mediterranean or Middle Eastern grocery store. You can find it in upscale stores, but it will cost much more.

My other tea find, of much more recent origin, is the house-blended mix of Earl Gray and regular black tea at Istanbul Grill in Avon Lake. Earl Gray is black tea flavored with bergamot. Cutting the intensity with plain black tea produces a hauntingly, almost floral-flavored cup.

The Istanbul is worth a drive for both the tea and the food. The latter is about as authentic Turkish food as you’ll find locally, seasoned with extraordinary finesse. The restaurant’s website is http://www.istanbulgrillavon.com.

TIDBIT II

If you want to try the splashy new seafood restaurant in Montrose without investing a fortune (entrees are $23 to $58), go during happy hour. The Kingfish, in the space on “restaurant hill” where various Italian restaurants have tried and failed, offers big-portion appetizers for just $5 from 4 to 6 p.m. weekdays in the bar.

Tony and I were impressed with the quality and quantity of our appetizers one evening last week, including a mini platter of house-cured salmon, four substantial kabobs of chicken with a soy-Bourbon glaze, a big bowl of perfectly cooked mussels in a wine-tomato broth, and a plate of meltingly tender cornmeal-fried shrimp with dill pickle remoulade. The happy hour starters are a steal compared to the apps on the dinner menu, which range from $9.50 to $13.50 ($85 if you count the chilled shellfish tower).

The Kingfish has polish right out of the gate thanks to chefs and servers who migrated from Hospitality Restaurants’ other Cleveland-area properties — Rosewood Grill, Delmonico’s, Cabin Club, Blue Point Grille, Salmon Dave’s and Thirsty Parrot. Wade through the company’s website (www.hrcleveland.com) for the Kingfish’s menu and directions.

THE MAILBAG

No fodder for this feature landed in my inbox last week, probably because all of you were stunned senseless by the election. Regardless of party, we all went through the psychic equivalent of a meat grinder.

This is the perfect time to be lulled to sleep by the gazillion watts of tryptophan in a Thanksgiving dinner. Tony and I will spend the day in Columbus with my niece, Heidi, who takes after me in the kitchen. I’m sure she won’t steam her turkey in a roaster or simmer it in a slow cooker. The next day I’ll grill-smoke my backup turkey for my favorite food of the season, Thanksgiving leftovers. Oh, boy.

This year, instead of reprinting instructions for roasting, high-heat roasting and grill-smoking a turkey, I will answer your Thanksgiving cooking questions and provide requested recipes individually via email. Send your questions to me directly at janesnowcooks@gmail.com. I’ll check my inbox daily through 5 p.m. Nov. 23.

 

 

November 9, 2016

Dear friends,

I’ve had a crush on goulash since I was 5 years old, when a pot of goulash on the stove at a playmate’s house drove me wild with desire. I wouldn’t leave until I at least got the name of the dish from my friend’s mother. The aroma alone was killer.

Despite my age at the time, I clearly remember that Mrs. Lee’s goulash was the American version made with ground beef and noodles. Years later I was thrilled to try the real thing on a ski trip to Austria. I learned goulash has many variations. In Innsbruck, entire menus were devoted to the dish and its permutations.

So I can appreciate a good goulash craving as much as anyone, but I have no idea why Tony started pestering me for goulash last week. I had never made it for him. I took him to the New Era in Akron, but we picked the wrong day for goulash; it’s a Saturday special. By that time I was hungry for goulash, too, so searched for recipes in cookbooks and on the Internet.

I was surprised most goulash recipes are so simple they don’t even call for browning the meat. That makes sense, since the dish was originally made over campfires by shepherds in Eastern Europe. That would never do for me, though. Browning the meat gives a stew or fricassee a depth of flavor that can’t be summoned any other way.

I noted many other variations: the meat ranged from veal to pork to beef to venison, the seasonings from paprika alone to a hodgepodge of herbs, and the additions from chopped tomatoes to wine to beef broth to sour cream.

I decided to pick and choose. The recipe I ended up with does not require a lot of prep time (my knee isn’t 100 percent), yet produces a suave, robustly flavored goulash with classic sensibility. In other words no wine, no herbs, no French accents.

I used venison, but beef would work just as well. I served the goulash to Tony Tuesday after a chilly day of deer hunting. He loved it, but apparently not enough to satisfy his craving. Yesterday I caught him searching for goulash restaurants. Bring ‘em on. I’ll put this goulash up against anyone’s.

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HEARTY VENISON (OR BEEF) GOULASH
2 1/2 lbs. venison or lean beef (such as bottom round)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3 cups chopped onions
2 red bell peppers, slivered
1 tbsp. sweet paprika
2 tbsp. tomato paste
1 cup hot water
2 large potatoes, peeled and diced

Trim meat of all fat and cut in 1-inch cubes. Season with salt. Heat oil in a wide, squat kettle or large Dutch oven and brown meat in batches. When the edges are dark brown, remove with a slotted spoon before continuing with next batch.

In the same pan with more oil if necessary, sauté onions and peppers over medium-high heat, stirring frequently until limp. Return meat to pan. Stir in paprika and 1 teaspoon salt. Add tomato paste and water, stirring over high heat to scrape browned bits from bottom of pan.

When water comes to a boil reduce heat to low, cover and simmer very slowly for 1 ½ hours. Stir in the potatoes, cover and simmer 1 hour longer. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

TIDBITS

Pumpkins, butternut, dumpling, Delicata, acorn and probably a half-dozen other kinds of winter squash are on display now in food stores. The common denominator for most of them is a hard shell that’s the devil to peel off.

A knife may be a requirement for making jack-o-lanterns but it’s the wrong tool for paring a hard-shell winter squash. Instead, use a sharp vegetable peeler.

You don’t even have to do that if you plan to cook the squash in order to mash or puree it (for pumpkin pie, for example). Cook the whole pumpkin or squash in boiling water until a knife pierces the flesh easily, then cut it open, remove the seeds and strings, and scoop out the flesh.

Or you could cut the pumpkin or squash in half (or leave it whole), place on a baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees until soft.

Delicata, an oval yellow-and-green-striped squash, has a tender skin that may be eaten, so peeling it is unnecessary. You shouldn’t peel spaghetti squash, either – just boil or bake it whole until tender, then cut it open and rake the flesh into strands with a fork.

In the winter a butternut squash or two is always nestled in a hanging mesh basket in the corner of my kitchen. For longer storage they should be kept in a cool place such as a basement, but mine seldom last longer than a couple of weeks.

My favorite way to prepare butternuts is to peel with a vegetable peeler, cut in half horizontally, and cut the bulbous part in half vertically to expose the seeds. I scoop out the seeds, cut the squash into 1-inch cubes and roast on an oiled baking sheet at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes or until tender. If I’m feeling sybaritic I dot the squash with butter and sprinkle with brown sugar before baking. I’ll toss in some dried cranberries, too.

THE MAILBAG

From Jan Cramer, Uniontown:
After all the questions about this recipe, I happened to find the original tucked away in a folder. I am pretty sure this is the one from the Greek restaurant that was in a plaza in the Montrose area.

Dear Jan: I’m pretty sure your recipe is from the Montrose restaurant, too. This was published in Beacon magazine:

PAPAS’ GREEK SPAGHETTI
1 lb. spaghetti
1 bunch green onions, trimmed and washed
3/4 cup (12 tbsp.) butter, oil or margarine
Salt, pepper
Garlic powder
Dried oregano, crumbled
Lemon juice
1/4 cup Chablis (dry white wine)
2 cups (about 1 lb.) grated Kasseri cheese (a hard Greek cheese available in Mediterranean grocery stores)

Cook and drain the spaghetti. Chop the green part of the onions, reserving white part for another use. Melt 5 tablespoons (1/3 cup) of the fat in a large skillet. Sauté the onions until limp. Add the spaghetti and mix well. Season to taste with salt, pepper, garlic powder, oregano and lemon juice.

Add remaining fat and toss with spaghetti mixture. Immediately add wine and mix, boiling off alcohol. Transfer to four pasta dishes and top each portion with one-half cup cheese. Serves 4.

October 26, 2016

Dear friends,

Time sneaks up on you. One Halloween you dress up as Carmen Miranda with tap shoes and real fruit on your head (I made a chicken-wire base and centered the arrangement with a pineapple), and the next thing you know you’re spending the holiday on the sofa in a sweat suit watching TV.

When did Halloween parties stop being part of my life? In my 30s and 40s, even in years when no friends threw a bash, I at least dressed up and hit the streets of Kent for my alma mater’s surreal downtown blowout.

One year I went as half-man, half-woman, buying two head-to-toe outfits at Goodwill, cutting everything down the middle, and sewing the male-female pieces together. One half of my head was covered with a fedora and the other half with a flowered pillbox.

Now I don’t even hand out candy to trick-or-treaters because we don’t have any on my stretch of country road, where the houses are far apart and set way back. For a couple of years I bought a few treats and delivered them myself to neighborhood kids, but the children grew up and I don’t bother anymore.

Somewhere I still have a cache of silly disguises such as Groucho Marx glasses, a pig’s nose, and antennas made from miniature slinkys and ping pong balls glued to a headband. For most of my adult life I kept such things handy because you just never knew….

Yes, once I was the kind of person who dressed up and went out on Halloween. I miss her, but not enough to become her again. That would require staying out after 10 p.m. and drinking alcohol, neither of which I enjoy much anymore.

On the other hand, my taste for Halloween treats continues unabated. If I still bought candy bars for door-knockers, I would probably still buy way too many and use the leftovers in something like Milky Way brownies, which I wrote about in my Carmen Miranda days. If you lean more to Snickers, I’m also sharing a recipe I developed for Snickers cheesecake made with 16 miniature (“fun size”) candy bars. For the latter, Snickers bars are melted down, swirled through the batter and drizzled over a sour cream topping. More bars are sliced and used to decorate the finished cake.

SNICKERS CHEESECAKE

2 cups graham cracker crumbs
2 cups sugar, divided
1/4 lb. butter, melted
4 packages (8 oz. each) cream cheese, softened
1 tbsp. vanilla
Pinch salt
4 large eggs, at room temperature
16 Snickers fun-size bars, divided
4 tbsp. milk, divided
2 cups sour cream
Whipped cream for garnish
Whole fun-size Snickers Bars for garnish

Stir together graham crumbs and one-fourth cup sugar in a bowl. Drizzle in butter and stir well with a fork. Press evenly into the bottom of a 10-inch springform pan.

Beat cream cheese and 1 1/2 cups sugar at medium speed of electric mixer until soft and fluffy. Add vanilla and salt and blend. Add eggs, one at a time, beating on lowest speed of mixer. Pour over crust.

Chop 10 candy bars and combine with two tablespoons milk in a small saucepan. Cook and stir over very low heat until smooth. Spoon over cheesecake batter in parallel strips. With a knife, cut across the strips to swirl melted candy into batter. Bake in a preheated, 350-degree oven for one hour, or until done. The cheesecake is done when the edges appear to be firm, but center moves slightly when gently shaken. Cool for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, chop remaining six candy bars and melt with remaining two tablespoons milk over low heat. Beat together sour cream and remaining one- fourth cup sugar. Spread sour cream mixture over cheesecake. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and drizzle melted candy over sour cream in a decorative pattern. Return to oven for three minutes. Refrigerate immediately. Before serving, decorate with whipped cream and whole candy bars, if desired.

MILKY WAY BROWNIES

BATTER
13 fun-size Milky Way Bars
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
3/4 cup flour
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt

MILKY WAY FROSTING

4 fun-size Milky Way Bars
2 tbsp. butter
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp. water

For batter, chop candy bars into thirds and combine with butter in a small saucepan. Cover and stir over very low heat until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and stir in sugar and vanilla. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in flour blended with baking powder and salt.

Spread batter in a greased, 8-by-8-inch pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until edges pull away from sides of pan. Cool.

For frosting, melt candy bars with butter in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in powdered sugar and water, beating until creamy. Spread over cooled brownies. Cut into squares to serve.

TIDBITS

The Boy Scouts in Uniontown are cooking again, which is cause for celebration. The Scouts (actually, their parents and boosters, including my friend Marty LaConte), are staging their popular cabbage roll fund-raiser this weekend at Queen of Heaven Catholic Church’s Parish Life Center. On Sunday, eat-in or carry-out diners will get two big cabbage rolls, sauerkraut, mashed potatoes, corn bread or a roll and beverage for $8 for adults and $6 for children.

The hours are noon to 3 p.m. but I suggest you go early because the cabbage rolls usually sell out. That may happen early this year because the dinner is being held after church rather than on the usual Saturday night. Also, cabbage rolls may be bought in bulk this year from 5 to 6 p.m. Saturday evening, after the all-day cooking session. Marty and her crew will make 800 cabbage rolls as usual, and when they’re gone they’re gone.

The church is at 1800 Steese Road in Uniontown.

THE MAILBAG

From Sue T., Pittsburgh:
I have a favorite ice pop recipe that I am trying to modify to a low-sugar version since I am on Weight Watchers. Do you have any suggestions for a sugar replacement in a frozen treat?  My recipe is 1 1/2 cups of water, 1 cup sugar, 1/2 cup white wine, 3/4 cup lemon juice and grated rind of 4 lemons. Thank you so much.

Dear Sue: I would replace the sugar with a generous half-cup of Splenda granular and taste. Add a bit more Splenda if necessary. Then beat the bejeezus out of the mixture in a blender to aerate it before you pour it into ice-pop molds. Even better would be to partially freeze the mixture in an ice cream maker before spooning into the molds.

Sugar helps soften the texture of frozen treats. Without sugar, your pops could freeze to the consistency of a block of ice. The wine helps, and so will aerating or processing in an ice cream maker.

I replace the sugar with half as much Splenda granular because I think it is sweeter than regular sugar, although the company says otherwise. Also, it can develop a bitter edge if too much is added.

October 20, 2016

Dear friends,

Rats. I remember yet another original recipe I have lost. A loaf of coarse-textured cranberry-cornmeal yeast bread would go so well with fall stews and roasts, not to mention a Thanksgiving turkey.

I created the recipe for Second Helpings, my Internet newsletter when I worked at the Beacon Journal. The online recipes weren’t saved in the newspaper’s database, and I lost my copies in one of many computer blowouts. Gaaa!

If anyone out there has the recipe I’d be grateful for a copy. While I wait, I’ll nibble on a few cornmeal-cranberry scones. I found the scone recipe when I was searching the Internet for my cornmeal yeast bread. Sometimes my recipes turn up in other food sites, but not this time. The scones are pretty good, and almost satisfied my craving. The small amount of corn meal added to the flour base produces a texture that is slightly grainy and tastes of corn. This recipe is from the Ocean Spray Cranberries folks.

CRANBERRY-CORN MEAL SCONES

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2 cups flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup butter
2/3 cup milk
3/4 cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
Combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt in medium bowl and stir until mixed. Cut butter into flour mixture with a pastry blender until coarse crumbs form. Add milk and stir with fork just until a sticky dough forms. Gently stir dried cranberries into dough.  Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead gently about 10 times. Pat dough into a 1/2-inch thick circle. Cut out dough circles with a 2 1/2-inch biscuit cutter and place on cookie sheet.  Bake 14 to 18 minutes or until golden brown. Makes 10 scones.

TIDBITS

Please change your copy of last week’s Ginger Beef with Black Bean Sauce recipe to read “2 lbs. beef tenderloin” rather than “2 tbsp.” Most of you had already figured that out, but I liked the comments that poured in regarding my mistake. “Are you sure that’s Tylenol you’re taking?” one reader queried.

THE MAILBAG

From Christine T.:
My father used your chicken liver and walnut pate recipe that was published in the Akron Beacon Journal 15 years ago or so. He has been unable to find a copy of the recipe. Is this something you can provide?

Dear Christine: Yes, and gladly. Although the recipe isn’t mine (I got it from a Silver Palate recipe calendar), I have been spreading the word about it for years. It’s the best chicken liver pate I’ve eaten – voluptuous with cream and cognac, and studded with bits of crisp bacon and crunchy nuts.

PATE MOUSSE WITH BACON AND WALNUTS
8 slices bacon, diced
1 lb. chicken livers
1/2 cup brandy
3/4 cup heavy or whipping cream
1 medium-size yellow onion, chopped
1/4 cup Hellmann’s mayonnaise
1 tsp. dried thyme
Large pinch ground nutmeg
Salt and fresh-ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
3 tbsp. chopped flat-leaf parsley

One day before serving, fry the diced bacon in a medium skillet until crisp. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. In same skillet, sauté the livers in the hot bacon fat over medium-high heat until brown on the outside but still pink inside, 4 or 5 minutes. Remove from the pan and reserve.

Pour the brandy into the skillet over medium heat and stir, scraping loose browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the cream and heat to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer until reduced to about 1 cup.

Process the livers, onion, and reduced cream in a food processor until smooth. Add the mayonnaise, thyme, nutmeg, salt and plenty of pepper. Process until smooth. Add the diced bacon, walnuts, and parsley and pulse just until blended. Transfer to a crock or decorative serving bowl. Cover and refrigerate overnight to allow the flavors to blend. Serve with baguette slices or crackers.

From Debbie M.:
I’m gearing up for holiday baking. Do you or any of your readers know where bakers can purchase ground poppy seed? It’s rather expensive on Amazon and I prefer to support local merchants when possible. I placed an order for apricot butter on Amazon and purchased walnuts when they were on sale. I’m getting ready to make kolachy rolls but need ground poppy seed — my husband’s and son’s favorite. Thanks!

Dear Debbie: Leach’s Meats & Sweets in Barberton sells ground poppy seed filling for $3 a pound. No doubt other stores sell it, too. Check bakeries and stores in areas that have a large Eastern European population.

Leach’s is at 256 31st. St. SW, phone 330-825-4415.

From Maryann:
I enjoyed your comments about apples, pies, and dumplings. My mother used to make little dumplings with leftover apples and dough that we called “pagach,” which could be either of Slovak or Polish origin.

In your list of which apples were good for what, you left out the very excellent Courtland apples. They are the only ones I use for pies and most apple cake recipes. They retain their shape in a pie, but aren’t crunchy or mushy. They also seem to absorb the spices well. My pie recipe uses flour, sugar and cinnamon, and makes a light brown slurry rather than the clear gel-like sauce of most apple pies. People who say they don’t like apple pie have changed their mind after tasting mine!

Dear Maryann: Heck, I’m sold and I haven’t even tasted it.